With Abbott's Green Light, Austin To Require Businesses To Enforce Mask Rules

Jun 17, 2020

While the governor has said Texans can’t face penalties for not wearing face coverings, cities and counties can apparently mandate that businesses require their customers to wear masks. 

Austin Mayor Steve Adler issued an order Wednesday that requires businesses to start doing so by next week.

“Wearing masks is important — to our health and to opening up the economy,” he said in a statement. “Austin businesses are great and many of them, if not most, have already done this.”

The order says all commercial entities in the city that provide goods and services directly to the public must come up with a health and safety policy that — at the minimum — requires employees and visitors to wear face coverings. Businesses have to start implementing the policy, which must be posted somewhere employees and customers can see it, by Tuesday.

There are a few exceptions. People don’t have to wear masks when alone or with only other members of their household. They also don’t have to wear them while eating or drinking in a restaurant or bar.

Gov. Greg Abbott has been urging Texans to wear masks voluntarily to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, but has refused to make it a requirement. On Tuesday, mayors in nine cities, including Austin, sent a letter to Abbott asking for authority to enforce mask rules, as cases and hospitalizations surge in the state.

Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff issued an order Wednesday that requires businesses to implement rules requiring employees and customers to wear face coverings. Businesses that don’t comply could be fined up to $1,000. 

Afterward, in an interview with KWTX-TV, Abbott said local authorities can in fact do this and that the Bexar County judge had “finally figured that out.”

“There has been a plan in place all along that all that was needed was for local officials to actually read the plan that was issued by the state of Texas,” Abbott said.

The governor issued an executive order in April that says no government can “impose a civil or criminal penalty for failure to wear a face covering.” 

“But when [people] do go into a store or other business, those businesses can require that,” he told KWTX-TV.

The move encouraged Adler to issue the requirement in Austin.

“The Governor has now given us a path and we will act consistent with his statement,” he said.

Got a tip? Email Marisa Charpentier at mcharpentier@kut.org. Follow her on Twitter @marisacharp.

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